This was published almost 30 years ago...
Master of the product...A father and son team...
The most important behind-the-scenes person in a distillery is the master distiller. Not only is he responsible for the daily run of raw whiskey from the stills, but in the long run for the consistent hight quality of the product. He is to the label what a good chef is to the reputation of a restaurant.
That man at Heaven Hill is Earl Beam, who most of his adult life has been engaged in making whiskey by the old Beam family formula that dates back to 1795, when Jaclob Beam made his first sour mash whiskey in Kentucky. He found that limestone springs in this area provided the kind of water that is a natural for good whiskey making.
The Beams are of German ancestry, says Earl, derived from Boehm and by nature have a bent for industry.
Earl Beam learned his art of bourbon-making from his father, Park Beam, who was a distiller all his life before and after repeal of Prohibition. Park was a grandson of Jacob.
When Earl Beam joined Heaven Hill in 1946 he brought with him several years experience in distilling, part of it with his brother, Carl, also recognized as a skilled master distiller. Now, Earl's son Parker, is with him as Heaven Hill as Distiller and Distillery Production Manager.
As the Master of the mashtubs, Earl Beam is responsible for all the yeasting, mashing an distilling operations carried on at Heaven Hill. A big part of the job is the specialized work of making and propagating the particular strain of jug yeast, which is one of the most improtant steps in producing Heaven Hill whiskey and requires the personal attention and utmost care of the distiller. The jug yeast is then worked up into a mash of malted barley to produce the day yeast for fermenting.
Strain of the yeast is the difference between good whiskey and poor whiskey, commented Parker Beam.
The big distilleries use laboratory yeast the strain built up in labs and kept pure by artificial methods. But we use jug yeast of our own secret strain. It's made from malt and hop water by running it through a mashing process by hand, explained Earl Beam.
Adding older jug yeast to a newer batch, it's allowed to work 18-20 hours, then placed in a stainless steel jug. The strain has not changed in the near 200 years of the family formula, and a distiller keeps it well guarded, said the master distiller.
Most of our barley malt is shipped in from Wisconsin and North Dakota, added Earl but we've promoted a market for local grains. Numerous local area farmers and local elevators supply corn to Heaven Hill, and some corn comes in from southern Indiana.
Production has been entered in the Heaven Hill warehouses every month since the distillery began operating, except in the war years when alcohol was manufactured for the government, said Parker--and that's a rare record.
The little skills, the intuition to improve the product are developed by the Beams personally. No question, that whiskey-making is an art, and Earl and Parker Beam have it. I can eyeball it and tell if the quality for good flavor is right, said Parker.
Earl Beam played football at Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green and taught school in his early years but was eager to get into ditilling after prohibition was repealed. Parker joined him at Heaven Hill 16 years ago. Cousin Joe Beam and Harry (his son) made the first whiskey for Heven Hill back in 1935, Earl said.
Earl and Parker are proud of their product, proud to be assoicated with Heaven Hill....
END OF STORY
Today Parker Beam is the Master Distiller and Craig (his son) is the assistant distiller...I talk (and vist) with Craig quite often...I'm a million questions ever time I see him...He is such a sweetheart...always answers my questions without any hesitation...One day, I spent nearly 3 hours asking him questions about growing up in a distilling family---What is your earliest memory of tasting bourbon? How did you learn to tell if it was right (in the white dog) can you taste it there and know if something is wrong? Can ya fix it in that stage? Those were just a few of the questions that I asked...Someday I will post the answers that he gave me...I have the highest respect for him...I am so proud that his is as good as he is and yet so young...
FAMILY REFERENCE.... Cousin Joe, the first Master Distiller (Earl coments about in the article) is my great-grandfather. Harry was my grandfather....Park and Jim Beam were brothers...